Film festivals are massively overrated, but they remain an important avenue through which to showcase your completed film. There are some harsh realities associated with film festivals that you should know about before you submit your film to the festivals – or, even better, before you even make your film. You can increase your film festival chances by making an awesome movie but, assuming your film is already in the can, here are a few tips to help you navigate the film festival jungle.
1. Submit your film early
You should plan your film festival submission campaign in such a way that your screener is received by each festival a week or two after they start accepting entries. That’s right – submit really early.
You see, in theory, as long as you meet the deadline, your film should be treated fairly. A film that is received a day before the deadline should have the same opportunities as one received a day after the call for entries. In practice this is highly unlikely to be true. Film festival staff tend to watch screeners as they are received, which means that many films are chosen and given a film festival slot long before the submission deadline. If the film festival receives your screener the day before the deadline, its chances are going to be poor. It shouldn’t be this way, but it’s just how human nature works. Submit your film early.
Submitting your film early is so important that if a film festival’s deadline is approaching and you have only just completed your film, you are much better off waiting until next year to submit to that festival.
Get hold of an accurate calendar of film festival deadlines and find the first festival that has a call for entries that opens soon after your film is finished. That is your first festival on the circuit.
2. Do not make your short film too long
If your film is a short film, do not make it too long. The maximum running time allowed for short films by most film festivals is 30 minutes, but if your short film is 30 minutes long, it will be heavily penalized in the film festival selection process, unless there is something about it that festivals really like. This is because short films are screened in 90-minute programs, so if your short film is 30 minutes long, it will occupy one third of an entire program slot. This is extremely undesirable to film festivals because, other things being equal, they want to screen as many short films as possible. There are many reasons for this – among other things, it will mean more filmmakers in attendance, more film websites linking to the festival’s website, and so on.
So, other things being equal, your average film festival will prefer to choose six 5-minute shorts over one 30-minute short. Making a short film with an excessive running time can easily kill your film festival run.
3. Market your film at the film festival
Make publicity postcards for your film and hand them around at the film festival. Everyone else will be doing this, and it can be annoying to be bombarded with postcards from every needy filmmaker at the festival, but it’s a tried-and-true technique that can draw some viewers. If you made a feature film there is even more pressure on you to sell it, in which case hiring a good film publicist is a good idea, if you don’t already have one.
4. Accept film festivals for what they are
While the career-building aspects of film festivals can be anticlimactic and disappointing, the social aspect is totally awesome. You will meet some talented artists and all-round wonderful people. If you have a film being screened at the festival, people will automatically be very interested in you. Make sure you have plenty of business cards to give to people.
5. Don’t allow sneak previews of your film – ever!
If you made a feature film and you plan to have a screening for distributors, be extra careful if a distributor asks to see a screener of the film before the main market screening. As I wrote in the past, allowing a distributor to watch your film before everyone else is a huge trap, because if they turn you down, your film’s distribution prospects are killed instantly. Insist that all distributors watch the film in the same screening at the same time. Get this wrong and watch your film languish on the shelf permanently.
Don’t take film festivals too seriously. Every newbie filmmaker is super excited about having been accepted by a film festival, but you should take them for what they are: awesome social occasions in which filmmakers get to hang out. Everything else is a bonus.
Film Festival Resources
Withoutabox – Submit your film online
FestivalFocus – Film festival deadlines and other useful info.
Good luck with your film festival submissions!